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The Progress of Taste, or the Fate of Delicacy
William Shenstone 1714 (Halesowen) – 1763 (Halesowen)
Perhaps some cloud eclipsed the day,
When thus I tuned my pensive lay:
The ship is launch'd-we catch the gale-
On life's extended ocean sail:
For happiness our course we bend,
Our ardent cry, our general end!
Yet, ah! the scenes which tempt our care
Are, like the forms dispersed in air,
Still dancing near disorder'd eyes,
And weakest his who best descries!'
Yet let me not my birthright barter,
(For wishing is the poet's charter;
All bards have leave to wish what's wanted,
Though few e'er found their wishes granted;
Extensive field! where poets pride them
In singing all that is denied them).
For humble ease, ye Powers! I pray;
That plain warm suit for every day,
And pleasure and brocade, bestow,
To flaunt it-once a month, or so.
The first for constant wear we want;
The first, ye Powers! for ever grant;
But constant wear the last bespatters,
And turns the tissue into tatters.
Where'er my vagrant course I bend,
Let me secure one faithful friend.
Let me, in public scenes, request
A friend of wit and taste, well drest;
And, if I must not hope such favour,
A friend of wit and taste, however.
Alas! that Wisdom ever shuns
To congregate her scatter'd Sons,
Whose nervous forces, well combined,
Would win the field, and sway mankind.
The fool will squeeze, from morn to night,
To fix his follies full in sight;
The note he strikes, the plume he shows,
Attract whole flights of fops and beaus,
And kindred fools, who ne'er had known him,
Flock at the sight, caress and own him;
But ill-starr'd Sense, not gay nor loud,
Steals soft on tiptoe through the crowd;
Conveys his meagre form between,
And slides, like pervious air, unseen;
Contracts his known tenuity,
As though 'twere even a crime to be;
Nor even permits his eyes to stray,
And win acquaintance in their way.
In company, so mean his air,
You scarce are conscious he is there;
Till from some nook, like sharpen'd steel,
Occurs his face's thin profile,
Still seeming, from the gazer's eye,
Like Venus newly bathed, to fly:
Yet while reluctant he displays
His real gems before the blaze,
The fool hath, in its centre, placed
His tawdry stock of painted paste.
Disused to speak, he tries his skill,
Speaks coldly, and succeeds but ill;
His pensive manner dulness deem'd,
His modesty reserve esteem'd;
His wit unknown, his learning vain,
He wins not one of all the train:
And those who, mutually known,
In friendship's fairest list had shone,
Less prone than pebbles to unite,
Retire to shades from public sight,
Grow savage, quit their social nature,
And starve, to study mutual satire.
But friends and favourites, to chagrin them,
Find counties, countries, seas, between them;
Meet once a year, then part, and then
Retiring, wish to meet again.
Sick of the thought, let me provide
Some human form to grace my side:
At hand, where'er I shape my course,
An useful, pliant, stalking-horse!
No gesture free from some grimace,
No seam, without its share of lace,
But, mark'd with gold or silver either,
Hint where his coat was pieced together.
His legs be lengthen'd, I advise,
And stockings roll'd abridge his thighs.
What though Vandyke had other rules?
What had Vandyke to do with fools?
Be nothing wanting, but his mind;
Before a solitaire, behind
A twisted ribband, like the track
Which Nature gives an ass's back.
Silent as midnight! pity 'twere,
His wisdom's slender wealth to share!
And, whilst in flocks our fancies stray,
To wish the poor man's lamb away.
This form attracting every eye,
I stroll all unregarded by:
This wards the jokes of every kind,
As an umbrella sun or wind;
Or, like a sponge, absorbs the sallies
And pestilential fumes of malice;
Or, like a splendid shield, is fit
To screen the Templar's random wit;
Or, what some gentler cit lets fall,
As woolpacks quash the leaden ball.
Allusions these of weaker force,
And apter still the stalking-horse!
O let me wander all unseen
Beneath the sanction of his mien!
As lilies soft, as roses fair!
Empty as airpumps drain'd of air!
With steady eye and pace remark
The speckled flock that haunts the Park;
Level my pen with wondrous heed
At follies, flocking there to feed;
And as my satire burns amain,
See feather'd foppery strew the plain.
But when I seek my rural grove,
And share the peaceful haunts I love,
Let none of this unhallow'd train
My sweet sequester'd paths profane.
Oft may some polish'd virtuous friend
To these soft-winding v
Submitted on May 13, 2011
Modified on March 05, 2023
- 3:58 min read
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|Scheme||Text too long|
|Closest metre||Iambic tetrameter|
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"The Progress of Taste, or the Fate of Delicacy" Poetry.com. STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 6 Jun 2023. <https://www.poetry.com/poem/41612/the-progress-of-taste,-or-the-fate-of-delicacy>.
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